Remembering a Friend

A good friend of mine died earlier this year, and I was asked to speak at a gathering of family and friends to celebrate his life.

This is what I had to say.

Every memory I have of my friend brings a smile to my face.  Every one.  It was fifty years ago that we first met, as young teachers.  We clicked right away, and spent many hours playing tennis, going on ski-holidays with our wives, and spending many New Year’s Eves together.  During all those occasions, we enjoyed a lot of delicious food washed down with cheap wine.

And although it might be hard to believe these many years later, legend has it that he and I were a lethal pass-and-catch combination on the flag-football field.  Or so we told our wives.

team formulating a plan

Early on in our teaching careers, my friend and I contemplated applying for promotion to vice-principal.  As the deadline grew near, however, he seemed somewhat hesitant about taking the step—having second thoughts because he really enjoyed working in the classroom.  Many of his colleagues—and I for sure—encouraged him to go for it.  We all thought he was more than ready, and I was sure we’d both be successful.

After much consideration, despite his reservations, he did apply.  And guess what?  My friend, the reluctant one, got that coveted promotion!

While I, the gung-ho guy, did not!  Go figure!

But two good things immediately came out of that experience.  The first was when my friend took me aside—I assumed to console me over my disappointment.  Not so.  He had an urgent, almost breathless tone to his voice when he was excited, and here’s what he said.

“Brad!  Brad!  Listen!  Just because I’m a VP now, you don’t have to call me Sir!”

Of course, he said it with that mischievous, little smile I was so familiar with when he was having me on.  I miss his sly, Irish sense of humour.

The second good thing from his promotion was that his first VP assignment was with the same principal who had hired me out of teachers’ college a few years earlier.  That man showed my friend and me more about child-centred education than anyone else we ever worked for.  He believed children came to school, not to be taught, but to learn; it was our job, therefore, not to teach them, but to guide them in their learning.

classroom1

My friend took that philosophy to heart, as did I.

Our mutual mentor could be somewhat unpredictable, though.  On the very first day of school that September, just before my friend’s very first staff meeting at the very first school where he was VP, where he knew almost no one on the staff, his new principal told him he would have to chair the meeting because something unexpected had come up that couldn’t wait.

Now, my friend was never, by nature, a cannonball-into-the-deep-end-of-the-pool sort of guy.  He much preferred to examine every situation six ways from Sunday before committing himself to any course of action.  He might eventually jump into that very pool, but not until he’d scoped it out thoroughly.

In this situation, however, the principal dropped the news on him at the very last moment, so you can imagine his reaction.  He must have told me the story at least a dozen times over the years.

“Brad!  Can you imagine?  Just before the meeting was supposed to start!  I was petrified!  I had no idea what I was doing!”

But, as with everything he did, my friend carried it off with aplomb.

Over the years, he and I enjoyed professional-development opportunities together as our careers advanced, almost in parallel.  Many of these were at annual conferences we attended, where we always roomed together.  There were three reasons for that:  one, we trusted each other not to drink too much and stumble back to our room in the wee, small hours; two, back in those days, neither one of us snored; and three, most important, we really liked each other’s company.

The two of us spent a lot of time at those retreats, walking the trails, talking about the challenges we faced as principals, about strategies for coping with those challenges, and about how we could make our schools into true centres for learning—for students and staff.  We both benefited greatly from our professional affiliation, as well as from our friendship.

Our most influential professional development excursion was a real eye-opener for both of us.  We had applied to visit four inner-city schools in a large American city, knowing we would probably be assigned at some point to similar special-needs schools in our own jurisdiction.  I still remember stopping at a gas-station to ask directions to the first school—in those days, there was no GPS, but there were still service-station attendants.

The attendant said, “You two are going to that school?”

When we nodded eagerly, he pointed the way and said, “Keep your doors locked and your windows rolled-up!”

My friend and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, wondering what we might be getting into.

inner city2

Within minutes, we found ourselves—two naïve waifs, far from home—driving through a neighbourhood in our bright-yellow rental car, hard to miss, where the only faces we saw around us belonged to people of colour.  Nobody looked like us!  Nobody!  But a lot of them seemed to be looking at us.

We were never in any danger, but it was the first time in our lives, I think, that we both understood, at a gut-level, how it felt to be outside the mainstream—to be a person of colour in our predominantly white society—to be different, to be the other.  It was a visceral awakening.  Neither of us had ever experienced what it was like to be a visible-minority person until that day, when we realized we were.

The people in the schools were very gracious to these two trusting wayfarers who tried to absorb everything we were hearing and seeing.  It was an experience that forever-after shaped our approach to children in our own schools who came from different backgrounds, different cultures, who had different skin-colour and strange names—all of whom wanted nothing more than to live and learn together in their adopted homeland.

I’m so glad I shared that experience and learned those lessons with my friend.

Part of his DNA, I think, was a natural empathy for the underdog in any situation; he always rooted for the little guy.  Our experience in those inner-city schools certainly underscored and reinforced that quality.

Because of this empathy, it was no surprise that, later in his career, he became supervising principal for special education in our school board.  In that role, he saw it as his mission to find the best learning environment for every child with special needs, sometimes with individualized instruction, where she or he could most closely realize their potential.

i on 1 2

Finding placements for them was never just a numbers game.  Like every principal worth their salt, my friend took these decisions personally.  He took them to heart.

He was a good teacher, a good principal, and a good man.

It has been said that no one has ever truly died until the last person who remembers them has passed on.  If that is so, then my friend will live a long time in the minds and hearts of his family and friends.

In fact, there are countless other people out there, people I shall never meet, people who remember my friend as their principal, or as their teacher.  And I think many of them, when they sent their own children off to their first day of school, might have had this thought in mind.

“I hope they get a teacher like I had.  I hope they get a teacher like him.”

And that is perhaps the greatest tribute.

I mentioned at the beginning that memories of my friend make me smile.  And I’m smiling still because I knew him for fifty years, and was honoured that he counted me his friend.

walking9

Godspeed!

Before the Fall

Once upon a time, it seemed summers would never end.  From the day school let out until the first fall-fair fell upon us, our days were blissful, carefree, and limitless.  Eat breakfast and rush outside to play.  Dash home for lunch, then go back outside.  Trudge home for supper, then head outside yet again.

ball3

Such were the halcyon summers of childhood I enjoyed.

But I grew up, in spite of myself, married, found work as a teacher, and became a father.  And those summers suddenly became more finite.

The calendar tells us that summer ends with the autumnal equinox in late September, but the end always came much sooner.  It was marked, not by an arbitrary calendar, but by the requirement to go back to school.  And once I became a school principal, I had to head back to work ahead of the students if I had any hope of being ready for their return after Labour Day.

For many folks, I suppose, the coming of fall is a time of new beginnings, of anticipation.  They think in terms of the flaming fall-colours, the brisk autumn days, evenings spent curled up with a book in front of a cozy hearth.  They look forward to the change of seasons.

autumn

Not I, though!  I’ve always tended to think of it as a gloomy time—the conclusion of summer, and the close of so many pleasurable things that vanish with the coming of September.

Let me cite a few examples.  With the end of the warm, sunny weather, there came the end to my carefree habits of dress.  No more swimsuits or running shorts; no more open sandals or ancient running shoes; no more tank-tops or faded team sweaters.  Instead, it meant a return to the straitjacketing drill of collars and ties, pressed slacks, knee-high socks, and polished dress shoes.

The end of summer put a stop to the treasured luxury of shaving every two or three days, depending upon what activities were planned.  And it called a halt to the wearing of old ball caps as an alternative to brushing my hair.

The onset of fall wrote fini to three or four leisurely cups of coffee with the morning paper, and an end to mid-morning breakfasts on the back porch.  It heralded, in their stead, the beginning of hurried showers and breakfasts-on-the-run.  It marked the re-entry into the exciting world of daily traffic reports, as I attempted to find the shortest, quickest route into and out of the city.

traffic

In short, summer’s end brought to a close the lazy, drifting vagaries of summer living I tried so vainly to hang on to.

Coming back to the real world was a jolt to my entire system.  It was like going from childhood to adulthood all over again!  I mean, once was enough.

I’ve never wanted to be the type of person who wishes his life away, always yearning for something different than what is.  But, in a sense, I guess I used to do just that.  For me, the year was divided into two seasons, summer and not-summer.  When the autumn of the year rolled around, and not-summer was upon us once again, I would start repeating my mantra:  Next is Christmas, then Easter, and then it will be summer again!  Everything in between was just wished away.

I remember so many glorious summers-almost-ended, when I’d have one last camping trip planned for up north.  My cutoffs and hat would be in my bag, my shaving-kit left behind. Together with my wife and daughters, I’d be off for one final fling in the glorious realm of summer.  Hiking, swimming, paddling, exploring, picking berries, roasting marshmallows, singing our hearts out around the campfire, sleeping the sleep of the innocent in timeworn sleeping-bags—I would be like a child again.

roasting-marshmallows-over-campfire-horizontal-banner-susan-schmitz

Even now—retired, when every day is like a Saturday—as September approaches, I’m going to pretend, yet again, that summer will never end, that I’ll never have to grow up and give it up.  There is so much left to do.

Before the fall!

 

Testicle

One of my great preoccupations, as readers of this blog might assume, is playing with words.  Spending a couple of hours with the NY Times Sunday crossword is a regular part of my week.  Figuring out the theme of each one can be frustrating, of course, and I sometimes seek out help with individual squares or words.  But for the most part, I find it immensely entertaining and satisfying.

I have long been an aficionado of the iconic word game Scrabble—and in recent years, with the similar online game Words With Friends.  The first is played with the traditional board and tiles, which lends a pleasing tactile element to the game.  The second is played on the internet, sometimes with actual friends, other times with complete strangers.

My online handle is anagramps, coupled with a photo of a Mesopotamian oracle, to identify me to opponents.  The handle is intended to convey both my status as a grandpa, and my affinity for anagrams, an essential skill if one is to play the games successfully.

anagramps

The photo is meant to be intimidating.

There is a feature in the online game to allow players to converse with each other via messages, but in my experience, that doesn’t happen very often.  I’m sometimes tempted, when I’ve dropped a bombshell-word on an opponent, to type Sorry! with a rueful-looking emoji accompaniment (although I’m never actually sorry on those occasions).

rueful 2

Or, when my opponent has produced something similar against me, I occasionally have the urge to message a mock-angry Grrr!

I rarely do, however.  Mercy is seldom shown on either side.

Over the years, I have become quite good at these games (if I may be permitted so immodest a claim).  My winning percentage online is in the high .600’s, roughly double a high, major-league baseball batting average.  I fully expect to win each game I play—although, in the interests of full-disclosure, I must confess I sometimes sulk when I do not.

06_CP1453_GRUMPY-OLD-MAN

It’s not pretty, that, but there it is.

In my own defense, I never gloat when I win.  If it’s been a particularly close game, I often send a message of congratulations/condolences to my opponent, and a request for a return match.  When I’ve won by a wide margin, I wait diplomatically to see if my opponent wants to challenge me to another match.

There are a very few players out there who bedevil me, winning matches with annoying frequency.  One of those is my wife, another my daughter.  It seems they draw especially good, high-scoring tiles when we oppose one another (or so I tell myself).  Because the online game is based on algorithms, not random chance, I can occasionally convince myself the system is deliberately trying to take me down a peg or two.

My wife and daughter merely laugh.

It was with my wife, however—or rather, against her, and against her mother—that I had my greatest moment.  I, a callow youth of nineteen, assiduously courting the lass who would become my life-partner, was playing a game of Scrabble at their home.  Late in the game, I discovered a word I might play, using all seven letter-tiles, which would come with a fifty-point bonus.  Not only that, but because there was already a letter on the board in the lower, left-side column I planned to use (an S from one of their earlier words), I would be able to start and end my word on a triple-word square.  In my head, I totalled the score I was about to receive—558 points!  Oh!  My!  Stars!

There was a problem, though.  My future mother-in-law was still getting to know me, and I her.  This was a critical sizing-up period for me.  It was important that I not do anything to offend her, thus dooming my chances with her daughter.  I had to think long and hard about whether to use the word, for fear of blowing everything.

mother

The word was TESTICLE.

In the end, I seem to remember convincing myself that there were other girls in the world, but such a high-scoring opportunity might never come my way again!  I’m sure I didn’t really think that, but it’s how I tell it these many years later.

In any case, I played the word, trying mightily to be nonchalant.

“What’s that?” my mother-in-law-to-be said.  “Is that a word?”

Flustered by the questions, and fearing the loss of my points if the word was not deemed acceptable, I sputtered, “Yeah, of course.”

“What does it mean?” she said.

“What does it mean?” I repeated stupidly.

“Yes, what does it mean?”

I was too nonplussed in the moment to realize she was playing me.  “It means…it means…you know…the private parts of a man’s…you know…reproductive system.”  Sweat was beading on my forehead.

reproductive

And then she broke into laughter, joined quickly by my future wife.  “Okay,” she said, “as long as you know what it means.”

My immense relief and towering sense of accomplishment were short-lived, however.  The two of them told me the rules were clear—the fifty-point bonus for using all seven tiles had to be added after, not before, the point-total of the word was tripled and re-tripled.  Thus, my true total was 158, a colossal 400 short of my expectation.

But by then, I didn’t care.  My status with my future in-laws was preserved, I had managed to play my perhaps-once-in-a-lifetime word without forsaking my betrothed, and…oh, yes, I won that game.

Anyway, if you are a devotee of Words With Friends, and if you care for an online game sometime, look for me—anagramps.  I promise no R-rated words!

Being the Same

The highlight of the last spring-break holiday for two of our granddaughters was, unquestionably, a week-long visit from a friend of theirs.  They hadn’t seen each other since her family moved from their old neighbourhood more than two years ago, to one of the middle-east oil states where her parents are both employed.

Iraq oil facility AFP

The visit had been arranged months in advance—a period of time which passed like centuries, I’m sure, for our granddaughters.  During the weeks leading up to the arrival, the girls became quite concerned about something, and it simmered inside for a while.  Nana and I happened to be with them when they decided to talk about it.

“Gramps,” the youngest began, “do you think when Susie gets here, she’ll be just the same as she was?”

I tried to respond honestly, but without causing undue concern.

“No, I don’t think she’ll be exactly the way you remember her, because she’s been gone for quite awhile.  She’ll probably be a little different, just as you guys are a bit different than you were then.  You’re older now, you’ve experienced things without Susie, and all of that has changed who you used to be.  And remember, she’s had a whole lot of different experiences, too, since you last saw her.”

“But, Gramps,” declared the eldest, “I don’t want her to be different!  I want her to be the same!”

It’s an old dilemma, one I recognize from my own life.  I often find myself wishing something could be the same as it used to be.  Usually, it’s something nostalgic, and generally, I’m remembering it more fondly than I should.  The arc of the universe, for me, seems to curve towards rose-coloured glasses.

nostalgia 2

My memories frequently play tricks on me, and I tend to believe things were better way back when.  But in fact, I probably had more things to worry about, and not as many blessings to be thankful for, as I have at present.

“Why don’t you wait ‘til Susie gets here,” I suggested to our granddaughters, “and see for yourself if anything’s changed with her?  I bet you’ll find everything’s okay.”

Their apprehensive faces told me they weren’t feeling reassured, but they gamely accepted my counsel.

Well, the big day finally arrived.  According to their mother, our granddaughters’ worries seemed to evaporate in the heat of joy and excitement when they met Susie and her parents at the airport.  There was a good deal of kissing and hugging, some surreptitious sizing-up on the part of all three girls, and a great deal of nervous giggling.

Their first few hours together were spent asking and answering questions—the questions tumbling out almost more quickly than the ensuing answers.  My daughter told us later that, at first, the questions appeared to focus on similarities, the things the kids still had in common.  Only later, after these had been confirmed—a comfort level established—did the questions turn to what Susie’s new home was like, what was different about her school, and who her new friends were.

friends 2

By the second day, apparently, they were thick as thieves, just as they had always been.

The next time I saw our granddaughters, I asked how the visit had gone, and how they felt, now that they’d seen their old friend again.  I wondered aloud if they felt their fears had been warranted.

“You were right, Gramps,” the eldest replied.  “Susie was different than she used to be.  But she was sort of the same, too.”

“Yeah,” her sister chimed in.  “And she thought the two of us had changed, too.  But, that’s okay.”

“We figure it’s like this, Gramps,” the eldest said.  “Always being the same isn’t so important when you’re still friends.”

I liked that observation.  And I told them so.

friendship-day

No Cavities!

“Look, Ma!  No cavities!”

You might remember this loud boast.  It was shouted by a kid I really came to hate every time I saw him in a television commercial many long years ago.  The kid’s face seemed split in two, the upper and lower halves separated by a wide row of perfect, pearly teeth.  His was the smile of one who had never known pain.

Norman-Rockwell-Crest-Mark-Barnett

I also envied that kid.  Not just because of his check-up results, but because he would never need to face the needle, the drill, and the pick.  For him, the dentist’s torturous tools were virtually unknown.

Today, there are cavitydetectors available in the modern dentist’s office.  Through the use of a small, micro-electric current, the device locates cavities at the earliest stage of their development, thereby enabling the dentist to employ preventative medicine, rather than restorative piecework.

Alas, this news comes as no great comfort to me.  I usually receive good reports when I visit the dentist—but not because I’m using the miracle toothpaste that kid on television was hawking.  For whatever reasons, I haven’t had a new cavity in several years; however, the operative word in that statement is new.

It’s the old ones that cause me the problems.

When I was a small boy, the age of that other kid, I suffered from what my mother called ‘soft teeth’.  That meant I was going to have cavities despite all the safeguards she could set up.  It was in no way reflective of her parenting.  I just had ‘soft teeth’!

Every six months, I was trundled off to have my mouth opened unnaturally wide, and stretched, probed, and pulled by my dentist, a kindly, grandfatherly gentleman.  He always seemed genuinely glad to see me.

old dentist

“This isn’t going to hurt, young fella,” he’d say, as he tied the drool-bib around my neck, my mother hovering nearby.  “Just lie back and relax, while we see how you’re doing in there.”

Of course, he’d always find something wrong, something to fix.  Out would come the needle to freeze my mouth.  Out would come the array of picks and hooks.  And, worst of all, out would come the drill.

Mostly, I guess, my dentist was right.  It didn’t really hurt in the classic sense of pain.  After my face went numb, he would insert both hands into my yawning mouth (or so it would seem), and begin his excavating.  I used to imagine I resembled an old-time comedian named Joe. E. Brown, whose trademark was his oversized mouth.

joeebrown02

My dentist’s drill was a far, far cry from the high-speed marvel of today.  Back then, it droned along at a leisurely pace, sending vibrations on a journey up and across the bony structure of my skull.  I used to close my eyes and go with it—until, that is, I would smell the smoke.  When the drill got that hot, when I could smell part of me burning, I invariably began to gag.

That usually signaled the end of the heavy drilling.  The rest of the visit would be taken up with packing, shaping, and tamping a new filling in place—an amalgam of mercury mixed with silver, tin, zinc, and copper.  Then the ordeal would be over, at least until the freezing came out.

Fortunately, aided by fluoride in the water, my own children never had a cavity.  Nor, to my knowledge, have my five grandchildren ever had one.  Cleaning, yes.  Orthodontic work, yes.  Whitening, yes.  But nary a cavity.

And today, happily retired, I am just like them—no new cavities.  When I visit my dentist, a young woman, it’s to have my original fillings, some more than sixty years old, replaced with porcelain, tooth-coloured fillings.  I lie back comfortably on her contoured couch, breathe sedating-gas deeply through a nose-piece, cleansing me of all fear and anxiety, and listen groggily to her  talking through her mask about her latest trip to Europe.

dentist

Occasionally, I drift off during the monologue—happily mellow, free-floating, with not a care in the world.  And sometimes in these reveries, I dream about that kid on television.  I wonder, if he were still that age now, what he would do in a world of no cavities, a world where teeth are ever-perfect, a world where regular cavity check-ups are a thing of the past.

And I find myself hoping the little braggart will grow up to become a dentist, only to find himself with nothing to do!

I really didn’t like that kid!

I Won’t Go Back Again

On the day I visited Venice, the city was flooding—a precursor, I fear, of what is to come.  Some of the streets alongside the canals were underwater, deep enough that I couldn’t venture into them without rubber boots.

In the Piazza San Marco, the main square of the city, raised boardwalks had been erected to allow tourists to pass from one side to the other.  Outdoor cafes, their tables waiting for customers, were untended because they sat in several inches of water.  A few children romped and splashed in the accidental lake that covered much of the square, their squeals of delight piercing the general hubbub.

 

I wondered, sadly, how much longer tourists would be allowed to visit the legendary city.

I made a point of visiting the famed Rialto Bridge spanning the Grand Canal—to say I’d been there, of course, but also because my youngest daughter accepted a marriage proposal on that very spot several years ago.  I found it quite romantic, despite the crowds.

venice 10

Until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t!

I had stopped to take pictures at the top of a staircase from the bridge to the street below, when I was roughly jostled from behind.  I almost dropped my cellphone.

“Outta the way!” a voice growled.  “You’re blocking the way!”

The speaker, about my age, held the hand of a little girl, perhaps six or seven, and they started down the steps past me.

More out of surprise than belligerence, I said, “Yeah, I guess I am.  Too bad!”

The man stopped, turned, and came back towards me, the little girl drawn along.  Standing one or two stairs below, he had to look up as he spoke to me.  He appeared to be somewhat younger than I, but old enough that I assumed the child was his granddaughter.

“What did you say?” he demanded, his English accented but fluent.  And angry.

“I’m taking pictures,” I said.  “You should watch where you’re going.”

“You shouldn’t even be allowed to come here!” he exclaimed.  “You’re spoiling our city, all you people!”  He was quite excited by then.

“Why don’t you calm down?” I said, wondering where this was headed.  “Before you frighten your granddaughter.”  The little girl was clutching his hand tightly.

600-00038982

“I’ll calm down when I punch you in the nose,” he said, still looking up at me.

“You won’t do that,” I said, slipping my phone into my pocket, bracing, wondering if he would.

There was a momentary pause.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I say momentary because an awful lot of thoughts were flashing through my mind at that precise moment.

Who is this guy?

Why’s he so mad?

What if he takes a swing?

If he does, I’ll push him, and he’ll fall down the stairs.

Yeah, but what about the little girl?  What if she gets hurt?

And what if the police come?

How do I get into these messes?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The man apparently thought twice about it.  Turning away abruptly, he started down the stairs, the little girl in tow.  “We can’t even walk around our own city anymore,” he complained loudly, one arm gesticulating.  “All you people, you come here, you block the streets, you ruin everything.  You should stay home, stay wherever you come from…”

His voice faded away, and within seconds he and the little girl were swallowed up in the crowded street, lost to sight.  No one else seemed to have noticed the altercation.

venice 4

I was shaken, of course, although convinced I had done nothing wrong.  After a few minutes, I resumed my walking tour of the remarkable city.

Later that evening, reflecting over a glass of wine, I wondered if the man’s anger was not so much with me, as with the fact that I was but one of hordes of tourists overrunning his city, even as the marshy land it sits on sinks into the sea.  In fact, more than 30 million people visit Venice each year, a city with a population of approximately 50,000 souls.

In his anger, I heard echoes of complaints from people in nations all over the world—people opposed to the influx of immigrants and asylum-seekers to their countries, people afraid their jobs will be taken, their culture destroyed, their language lost.  Their fear is real and their resentment palpable.  Politicians cater to it.

And I wondered if those same fears had been voiced, in vain, by the indigenous peoples whose homelands had been invaded by the rapacious colonizers who appeared on their shores four centuries ago.  

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I’m awfully glad I visited Venice when I did, and I’m happy I stood where my daughter did almost twenty years ago when her beau proposed to her.  It is an indelible memory for us both.

venice 12

But I won’t go back again.

Those Were the Days

Let me list some life-threatening things that have befallen us, my wife and me, along our way together through these many years—

  • a head-on collision that totalled our car, from which we walked away shaken, scathed, but alive;
  • a diabolical attempt on our lives by an unhinged assailant, foiled only by the most fortunate of circumstances;
  • a last-minute, lifesaving operation in the wee dawn hours by a dedicated surgeon who removed my colon before the disease ravaging it could snuff me forever;
  • the onset of cancer, that most insidious of diseases—once for me, twice for her—held successfully at bay, so far, by equally dedicated doctors;
  • a severe lacunar stroke that struck her without warning, treated as quickly as possible, from which she has recovered to the point of resuming her tennis and golf endeavours.

OR2

It’s a grim list, to be sure, not one we enjoy recalling.  And yet, here we are, still alive, still able to remember each and every event.

Let me cite now another list, this one of life-altering blessings we have been allowed to experience together on our journey—

  • two amazing daughters and their loving husbands, who love and esteem us beyond what we deserve;
  • five loving grandchildren, only just awakening to the limitless possibilities dawning before them;
  • siblings, six in total now, whom we have known and loved for more years than seems possible;
  • fast and faithful friends, both new and old—as the children’s song says, the one silver, the other gold;
  • a beautiful home on a lake in Ontario, another on a freshwater pond in Florida, each a place of inspiration and respite;
  • a creative penchant that allows us the opportunity to craft things where there was nothing before—pottery and glass-sculpting for her, music and writing for me.

This is a much happier list than the first for so many reasons, the most important being that, where the first comprises things from our past—never to be revisited, we hope—the second embraces blessings we continue to enjoy.  And that enjoyment follows from a belief that, as Robert Browning wrote, …the best is yet to be.  Through the hardships, it is that belief that sustained us.

An old Russian folk-tune (for which English lyrics were composed several years ago) speaks to the reminiscences of people my age upon their vanished youth, and recalls their once-cherished romantic idealism—

Those were the days, my friend, / We thought they’d never end…

I’m happy to say that, so far, they haven’t.  We’re still singing and dancing.

days